It’s as inevitable as the tide is daily that, at some point during your time as a designer, you will encounter a client who, to put it bluntly, tries to take the absolute Michael.
Rest assured you are not alone. At the end of the day these client will always exist, it’s in our nature to try and get ourselves the best deal from everything in life. Unfortunately some people seem to misunderstand ‘a good deal’ and ‘a fair price’.
There are numerous things you can do to protect yourself from these ‘clients’ and speaking from experience here are a few of my tips:
Spec work? NO NO NO!!!
We’ve all been there. Maybe you have a bit of free time and you’re bored. Maybe you were still studying at university and didn’t feel confident charging people outright for your time. Whatever the reason, spec work is EVIL. Not only is it driving down the price people expect to pay for the professional services provided by designers and developers but it also expects that you spend your time working on something without any kind of guarantee of payment. Avoid this at all costs.
Contracts, Contracts, Contracts!!!
I remember reading somewhere that only 50% of designers actually bother to use contracts when starting projects. This astonished me. I understand that as a fledgeling designer you may be a little naive at first and assume that people are good old honest chaps but they’re not. Well, some of them aren’t. Believe me when I tell you that people can be sly, snide, and they won’t bat an eyelid at taking your work and doing a runner. Without a contract it’s your word against theirs.
Contracts however, are not just there so you can chase people for payment when they refuse. They’re also there to instil trust for both parties, client and designer. The client is reassured that they have a written declaration of EXACTLY what you will do for them and in what time frame. As the employee of the contract you have a written declaration that your client will give feedback, content, etc all by required deadlines. If they don’t THEY will be in breach of contract.
All in all, for the sake of taking 30 minutes out of your day to create a contract for a new project, you can save yourself a LOT of time and money in the future. If you don’t have a clue how to go about writing one then have a look on Google for a ‘contract template’…not rocket science.
Always take a deposit.
You may not think this is too important seeing as though you have a binding contract that your client will pay up when you’ve done the work. This isn’t the case though. Even though you may have a contract saying that your client will pay for the work you have done, this doesn’t mean they will. And it’s going to be you that has to spend the time and money taking legal action over the situation, not them.
Whether you take a 25% deposit up front and then a further 25% at half way, or 50% up front and the rest on completion, is totally up to you. The sheer fact that your client has paid the deposit shows that they are fully behind the project and are willing to take it the whole 9 yards.
Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do.
Life isn’t fair, we all know this, even if you follow the steps above and meet all of your contractual requirements you can’t ensure that your client will fall in love with the product you give them. At this point it can be very hard to negotiate and reason and a stalemate can occur. The client (and I’m not saying this is all clients because the large majority are decent, honest people) will refuse to pay, as they don’t like what you’ve done. You on the other hand, and rightly so, will feel you deserve to be paid. You have provided a professional service fulfilling a brief provided to you so why shouldn’t you?
At this point, I’m afraid, there is nothing left to do but take legal action. Just be sure that you HAVE fulfilled your half of the contract, no point wasting your money on a lawsuit is there?
When you’re working at this scale (I’m writing this intended at people similar to me, not huge agencies dealing in million dollar contracts) it’s hard to ever guarantee that you will be paid for your work, but simply by covering your bases and being sensible you can fish out the people looking for some free work. If you ever get an email saying something along the lines of this:
“How does it work, you design and if I want it I transfer the money?”
Run a f*****g mile and don’t look back.